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Chicago School of Blues: Our Programs

How Blues Can Help Us - An overview

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Civil rights leaders have urged young people to declare: “I Am Somebody!”  The U.S. Army used  “Be all you can be!” for a recruiting slogan. But nowadays, as they try to “be somebody,” today’s youth face tough obstacles. The job market is brutally competitive; drugs and violence lurk in many neighborhoods. Imagine growing up today. Might you feel tempted to join the drug dealers flashing their wads of money, if that’s all you know or believe you could be?

But what if you could find out that not long ago, your city was a hotbed for music and culture that spread all over the world?  What if this music could help you express yourself—happy or sad, glad or mad—right now, today?

Regardless of our economic situation, don’t we all have times of being happy, sad, glad or mad? Then we all can share in blues music! In fact, writer Kurt Vonnegut said, “Blues music is a cure for the worldwide epidemic of depression.”

Chicago School of Blues travels to schools and community centers to offer concerts, classroom workshops and afterschool programs. Teaching artists and professional blues musicians introduce young people to the sound and history of this powerful music, which is not easily available on the radio or in stores. The musicians, many from Chicago's West and South Sides, are currently under-recognized in the music industry and underemployed in the Recession. Nevertheless, they understand the historical significance of their music, and delight in sharing this gift with new generations. Meanwhile, the kids think it's totally cool!

Blues makes hard times bearable and sharable for everyone.  We’re just waiting to play some blues with you! Prices for our programs depend on number of staff, time and distance, and equipment. We also work to arrange funding for schools and community centers in low income areas.

Concerts - We'll Play the Blues for You

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Chicago School of Blues professional musicians are available as a full five to seven piece band for concerts at schools, colleges, community centers, corporate functions and other venues.

 At each educational concert we explain some of the history behind the repertoire of post-World War II Chicago blues, soul, funk and R&B.

Seeing a professional band wield their instruments can be an awe-inspiring moment for youth, motivating them to discover their own talents. They’ll see and feel the beat of the drums and hear the story told by the singer; the harmonies and riffs of the guitars and keyboard; the bass line that moves and shakes, the pleadings of horns and harmonicas. They’ll watch the band cooperate together to make the music happen.

History workshops - Blues is the Root

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The elders of many of today’s students brought the blues to Chicago. This sound burst forth as African-Americans sang together to cope with hard work in early 20th century cotton fields and levee camps of the South. They sang about low pay, unfair bosses and families being split up, but they sang about the joy and fun times as well. Simply, the music made people feel better while acknowledging the hard truths of life.  Blues is the root of American popular music—R&B, rock, hiphop, gospel, soul, funk, jazz, even country! The sound and feeling of this music has captured hearts around the world.  

 Our workshops introduce students to earlier stars like Bessie Smith, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Reed and Willie Dixon, who have influenced what we play on our iPods today. Just as devotees of cultural traditions work hard to preserve the sound of bagpipes in Scotland, Neapolitan ballads in Italy,  or the performance of Shakespeare plays from England, we want to make sure young people experience the roots of the blues tradition.

Sing Your Own Blues - Make up a verse

In this workshop, youngsters compose and sing a simple three line blues verse--happy, sad or funny: “The dog ate my homework, please have mercy on me…”  This helps them learn to express themselves and realize others feel the same way and often share the same situation.  It’s a step towards less isolation and more civility.

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Sing and Dance Together

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As students begin to experience personal power by singing their own songs, we encourage classmates to support them by singing along. This African American style of music builds community and teamwork. Voices come together; musicians help put words to music. Everybody contributes: clapping, singing backup, and rapping rhymes between verses. Everyone finds their voice.  When children feel inspired to dance, we guide them in coordinating their movements. The vision: joy and self discipline. Dance to the music!

Student Band Jam - Practice playing together

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Students who’ve begun to play a musical instrument can learn to play a 12-bar blues and other common music patterns together in an ensemble. The 1-4-5 blues progression comes from the same chords that make up European classical music. When you learn a blues pattern, it's easier to understand basic music concepts. Professional musicians will be on hand to coach and encourage the students.

Organic Music and Movement

Children today are overstimulated and many have problems focusing, as media, technology, and peer pressure compete for their attention. At the same time, American child obesity has reached epidemic proportions across every income level and community. Youth need help to get in touch with their bodies, their feelings and their heritage.

The music that kids listen to is too often becoming the most influential force in their lives. CSB approaches music, movement and exercise with a fresh perspective and no judgement. A noncompetitive classroom environment leaves each child free to focus on their own goals. We provide a safe opportunity for youngsters to exercise, build community and move toward more civility and less isolation. We help children interact positively with each other, and help them form wellness practices they can carry into their adult lives.

Children learn to think of their own bodies as musical instruments—voices plus percussion.Children in CSB programs will develop personal power skills that enhance their creativity and self-discipline.       

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Training for Teachers

 tutrmentr511LadiesSingBonni1.jpg   CSB's training workshops for adults create a safe space for stressed-out teachers to reconnect with their own experiences and feelings. After CSB's session at the Chicago area 2011 Tutor Mentor conference, one teacher-mentor wrote: "I'm always focused on lesson plans. I forget how powerful music and movement are. I'm amazed that blues music has so much more depth than I gave it credit for."